Why the Typical Performance Review is Overwhelmingly Biased

28 November 2018
News & Knowledge, Symmetra


B Jones and D Rock – Psychology Today – May 2018

This article offers an interesting new perspective on how to mitigate the biases which creep into performance appraisals.

Biases infiltrate themselves into many of the decisions we make daily. Recognising this means we need to guard against the harmful results flowing to ourselves and others in the course of making consequential judgements and decisions.

Performance reviews have garnered a good deal of attention over recent years. Much criticism has been levelled at the traditional way performance reviews are conducted, which often do not constitute an objective appraisal of an employee’s performance.

Well-known biases that impede proper assessments in traditional performance reviews are: the “halo effect” which bases the entire review on one criterion to the exclusion of others; the “crony effect” which distorts the review process because of the closeness of the relationship between appraiser and appraised; and the “recency effect” where the person reviewed is appraised simply with regard to the most recent action or behaviour.

The authors note that despite the well-known difficulties with performance reviews, some 57% of companies they surveyed in the USA were not doing anything to remove biases in these processes.

Many observers who have written about the biases which come into play in performance reviews have suggested simply that the appraisers alert themselves to the difficulties and do their best to overcome their impact. But since many of these biases, by definition, operate at an unconscious level it is almost impossible for a decision-maker to address them on their own in real time.

The solution suggested in this article is for managers to solicit the views of others in the organisation. Collective opinions are much more likely to get closer to an objective assessment which may turn out either more favourable or less favourable than that which the manager alone would have given.

This is a useful approach to performance reviews because it introduces an element of systematic checks and balances against unconscious biases rather than leaving it to the individual to ward them off.


Original article: Why the Typical Performance Review is Overwhelmingly Biased